Staunton, May 1 – Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, says his institution’s surveys show that 52 percent of Russians now fear a return to mass repressions and 58 percent are worried about growing arbitrariness by officials, figures that are currently both the highest since 1994.
This rise, he tells Elena Polyakovskaya of RFI’s Russian Service, is a product both of the actions of Russian officials in response to protests and growing concerns about the current state of life in Russia and a loss of hope about the future (rfi.fr/ru/россия/20210501-страхи-как-реакция-общества-на-действия-власти-лев-гудков-об-исследовании-левада-центра).
The level of fear is greater “among less educated, older and those living in the provinces,” Gudkov says, and especially those who depend “on federal television and the information which they receive from it.” At present, “television frightens people” by its constant talk of an international conspiracy against Russia.
“The promotion of fear and the creation of enemies and conspiracies against Russia,” the sociologist continues, “raises all the complexes of a Soviet type which are more strongly manifested among elderly and less educated people who remain more firmly connected with Soviet culture and the Soviet past.”
Moscow is promoting such fears because it leads such people to rally round the Kremlin in opposition to them, but “at the same time, in the subconsciousness” of the population, it is creating other feelings. Russians “very much respect force and the demonstration of force” but at the same time, these things elevate the level of fear people have as well.
The level of fear now in Russia is least in Moscow “where the share of educated people is much greater. Among the working population of the capital, more than half consists of people with higher educations.” In the provinces, however, things remain much as they did in Soviet times regarding fears, phobias and so on. At least they are “much more strongly expressed.”
There is no direct correlation between the pandemic and its economic consequences and these fears, Gudkov continues. They have far more to do with wars and the threat of wars as in the case of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine after 2014. Now people are worried about new threats of war and their fears about what that will lead to are going up as well.
The Levada Center director says he expects these fears to remain at a high level at least for the next year because the powers have blocked the public space in which they could be critically examined and thus eased. Instead, Russians hear only the Kremlin’s suggestion that they live in a besieged fortress.
And what that means is this: the Kremlin benefits from such fears but only up to a point. When the fears it promotes take possession of the Russian populace, at least some of its members in the absence of public discussion expand their fears from those the regime approves of to those it doesn’t – and in the first instance toward itself.
That too works for the regime, Gudkov concludes, but again only up to a point and only for so long.
Window on Eurasia — New Series